Department of Classics

Paul B Woodruff

ProfessorPhD, Princeton

Professor of Philosophy and Classics; Dean of Undergraduate Studies
Paul B Woodruff



Well-known for his influential articles on Socrates and Plato, Professor Woodruff has also published critical editions of Plato's Hippias Major (1982), Ion(1983), and (with Alexander Nehamas) Symposium(1989) and Phaedrus (1995). He has also written on topics in aesthetics and ethics. His recent publications include Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue(Oxford University Press, 2001), Socrates on Reason and Religion (edited with Nicholas Smith, Oxford, 2000), Early Greek Political Thought from Homer to the Sophists (Cambridge, 1995, with M. Gagarin), Thucydides on Justice, Power, and Human Nature (Hackett, 1993), and contributions to Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates (Oxford, 1994), Essays on Aristotle's Poetics (Princeton, 1992), and The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy (1999). He has been Visiting Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and has twice directed NEH seminars on ancient philosophy.


GK 390 • Plato

33888 • Spring 2014
Meets M 630pm-930pm WAG 312
(also listed as PHL 381)

MON., 12:30 - 3:30

Graduate standing and consent of graduate advisor or instructor required.

Course Description

The course will be a study of Plato’s approach to ethics, from Socrates’ nagging questions to the grand speculations of the Republic, in the light of recent work in ethics and meta-ethics.  This will be more philosophy than archaeology—more about whether Plato’s ethics stands up to criticism than about how to read the text.

We will begin with Socrates’ questions:  What do they presuppose about common human resources?  What do they presuppose about matters such as reverence and justice?   To what extent is Socrates committed to these presuppositions?  To what extent is the questioning defined by the pretensions of Socrates’ partners to know or to teach virtue?  In particular, is Socrates really committed to defining virtue as knowledge, or is this a consequence of his partners’ claims to teach virtue?  If he thinks virtue is knowledge, and truly thinks he does not have that knowledge, how does he think he manages to live a decent life?  After that, we will give special attention to Socrates’ arguments with those who appear to reject ethical values as folly, such as Thrasymachus and Callicles.

Plato was closely related to men whose ethical failures were colossal, leaders among the thirty tyrants.  Not surprisingly, he was driven by a passion to avert ethical failure in educated people, and this drive led him to important insights about the nature of education and effect of knowledge and ignorance on behavior.  With this in mind we will study Socrates’ response to Glaucon’s challenge, as well as his unblinking realization that even the ideal state will decay as a result of ethical deterioration.  This appears to be due to a number of factors, which we will investigate.

Not everyone will read all of the texts; we will to some extent divide and conquer.  If one or more members of the class wish to read texts in Greek we will set aside time for that outside class time, not in it.


Initial paper, first week, 5%.

Class presentation, in week assigned, 25%.

Rated on basis of the focus of the talk, clarity, quality of engagement with audience, use of texts, effectiveness of arguments.  (By “focus” I mean that the presentation may not be a summary; it must be organized around a thesis or a question/)

Notes assembled for class presentation, 20%.

Rated on focus, organization, clarity, judicious use of secondary material, definitions of terms used.

Participation, 30% 

Members of the class are expected to contribute to each week’s discussion.

Paper, developed from the notes, due two weeks after the presentation, 20%.


The Cooper edition of Plato’s dialogues, with commentaries and scholarly works as appropriate for individual student projects.

All will read Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Gorgias, and Republic. 

Some will read Charmides, Laches, Lysis, Hippias Major, Alcibiades, Symposium, or Phaedrus.



This course satisfies the History requirement


GK 390 • Justice In Ancient Philosophy

33170 • Fall 2011
Meets M 600pm-900pm WAG 312
(also listed as PHL 381)


Graduate Standing and Consent of Graduate Advisor or instructor required. 

Course Description

Very new and very old approaches to the age-old problem of justice, with attention to questions such as these:  Can justice be, at the same time, a political virtue and a virtue of character?  Is compassion compatible with justice?  What kinds of difference in individuals justifies difference in expectations, whether of benefits or of duties?  Must justice be principled?  Can it be consequentialist?  What sort of commitment could a particularist have to justice?  What is fairness in relation to justice?  Can there be justice among nations?  Across nations?  Among species?

We will bring new eyes to ancient texts, and we will cast eyes steeped in ancient lore on very recent ones.  After a very brief survey of early Greek thought about justice (including tragic poets), we will spend a few weeks on Plato, then Aristotle, then John Stuart Mill.  That will take less than half the semester.  After that, we will divide up modern authors.  Members of the seminar may choose from the list below or introduce authors they are interested in themselves.

Grading Policy

Two shortish papers (well under 2000 words), both to be presented in class (assuming the class is fairly small).  After the first month, there will be at least one paper presented per week.  One paper about a topic in ancient philosophy, and one paper about a recent work chosen by you (not necessarily from the list above).  The papers will count 40% each, and seminar participation will count 20%.


I will order no books, as I assume you will have most of these already, or else we will be reading different books.  For Plato, I prefer Hackett translations (Crito, Gorgias, Republic (Grube-Reeve version, 1992).  For Aristotle I prefer Reeve's Politics (Hackett, 1998) and Ostwald's Nicomachan Ethics (LLA 1962) 

Otherwise, lay in what books you wish, borrow from me, or depend on photocopies, as we will be reading what the class decides to read, and not all the same things.  We will allow one week for a brief review of Rawls (Political Liberalism, Expanded Edition 2005).  Among recent authors, I suggest, in alpha order:  Gillian Brock (Global Justice, 2009), G.A. Cohen (Rescuing Justice and Equality, 2008), Raymond Geuss (varia), Richard Kraut (What is Good and Why, 2007)), Martha Nussbaum (Frontiers of Justice, 2007), Joseph Raz (varia) , Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (2009), David Wiggins (in Ethics, 2006).   I promise not to read all of these, and you will not do so either.  We will divide up the work in order to achieve a general view of current work in this area. 


This seminar satisfies the History requirement

GK 390 • Smnr: Sophocles

32255 • Spring 2009
Meets W 200pm-500pm FAC 406

GK 390 Seminar in Classical Studies:

Selected topics in Greek studies. Topics given in recent years include Mycenaean documents, Aristotle's ethics, Archaic poetry, and Plato's Symposium.

Curriculum Vitae

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